The tiny shooting star in the lower center of this image is Comet Neowise pictured from the … [+]
A series of dramatic images of Comet NEOWISE have been taken by both US and Russian astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS).
The photos depict the comet—officially known as Comet F3 NEOWISE and C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)—hurtling towards Earth. Luckily, that’s not what’s happening—the comet is harmlessly passing through the Solar System after looping around the Sun, and presents no danger whatsoever—but you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise from looking at the photos from the ISS.
The long-period comet is this week brightening to become a naked-eye sight, making it one of best comet sightings for years.
On July 4, 2020 it was snapped by Russian cosmonauts Ivan Vagner on the ISS, who described Comet NEOWISE as “the brightest one over the last 7 years.”
“This is immense (and also looks like moments before the end of the world…)!” said journalist Andrew Jones on Twitter.
Then on July 5, 2020 Comet NEOWISE was photographed again by NASA astronauts on the ISS as it orbited above the Mediterranean Sea.
The original image is available to download from NASA as a high resolution JPEG.
Citizen scientist Seán Doran then posted some images from the ISS of Comet NEOWISE and some noctilucent clouds—also known as high altitude “night shining” or “space clouds.”
Doran also posted a gorgeous time-lapse video of Comet NEOWISE’s appearance in the sky as seen from the ISS.
Russian space agency Roscosmos posted a trove of images of Comet NEOWISE taken from the ISS, some including noctilucent clouds, though there have also been plenty of excellent photos taken by Earth-bound photographers.
For example, here’s a great photo from Michael Jäger in Austria:
And another of Comet NEOWISE by Jeremy Perez from Merriam Crater, Arizona. “Catching it sharing the horizon with this graceful comet gets kind of goosebumpy for me,” he said.
Meanwhile, here’s a stunning close-up from Ye Quanzhi, an astronomer sat the University of Maryland studying asteroids, comets and meteors. “It is already an easy naked-eye comet now—I’d say it’s among the few brightest comets in the past two decades, and the brightest since 2013,” said Quanzhi to me in an email. “So I would encourage anyone in the northern hemisphere in the mood of seeing a comet to get up a bit early and take a look.”
Comet NEOWISE also starred yesterday in NASA’s Astronomy Photo Of The Day.
The best time and place to look is before dawn and about 10º above the northeastern horizon. Comet NEOWISE is currently in the constellation of Taurus and will be closest to the Earth on July 23, 2020.
That’s going to be the peak week to look if it remains intact because it will be at its brightest and be visible before midnight in dark, moonless skies.
However, if you have a clear sky, get up really early and take a look as soon as you can at Comet NEOWISE because comets are highly unpredictable and have a habit of self-destructing and/or fading fast.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.